The Fresh and Natural Drinks of Puerto Rico

From the island that brought you the piña colada, could you expect anything short of fabulous for Puerto Rico’s other refreshing drinks? Natural and exotic fruits grow year round in Puerto Rico’s lush tropical habitat. Coconuts galore, homemade fruity ice cream frappes and so much more. Here are Puerto Rico’s best smoothies, snow cones, just-roasted coffee, and all sorts of local sips.

Highlights
Old San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico
A piragua is shaved ice with syrup. Piragueros (the piragua vendors) and their colorful wooden pushcarts used to be ubiquitous in Puerto Rico many years ago. Now they’re few and far between (usually found in town squares) and with the heat bearing down more than ever, locals run to every piraguero they can find for equal parts refreshment and reminiscence. The most loved syrup flavors include raspberry, sesame seed, anise, and mantecado (ice cream).
Campamento Piñones, Carolina, Loíza, Puerto Rico
Doña Olga* is a large kiosk in Piñones, from which the smell of fritters wafts all the way to the beach. I often find myself getting a large order of bacalaitos (round cod fritters), empanadillas (turnovers), alcapurrias (dough of plantains or yucca and filled with meat), and piononos (deep-fried sweet plantain balls stuffed with meat and cheese). Halfway through the meal, I start thinking my eyes are bigger than my stomach, but the flood of Puerto Rican flavors in my mouth makes me devour every last morsel in front of me. Of course, there’s no way I’d be able to handle all that without a refreshing drink on hand. My drink of choice is coconut water. (It’s completely natural; an employee will chop off the top of the coconut with a machete and bring it to you with a straw.) After you drink the water, you can scoop out coconut meat (the white stuff), which serves as a pleasantly light dessert. A swim in the nearby beach (two minutes away walking) and a nice nap will perfect your day. *Doña Olga is my first choice, but this whole road is bursting with beachside kiosks selling fritters and other Puerto Rican fare.
525 Av. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, San Juan, 00918, Puerto Rico
Coco frios are sold on every corner during the high season (fall and winter) in Puerto Rico. Cold, fresh coconut water is the lifeblood of island living. Literally, if you were ever stranded on an island, you could sustain yourself on what’s inside a coconut (just ask Les Stroud). There is a difference between coconut water and coconut milk. Coconut water is clear to translucent and not as sweet—you harvest this from a fresh green coconut that has just fallen, or is ready to fall from the tree. It might taste unusual at first if you have never tried it, but this is actually the best form of natural electrolytes to replenish yourself after a workout or surf session. Watch the roadsides for the carts and folks with machetes—because this is your hint that coco frios await you!
210 Calle San Francisco, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Cacao beans’ scientific name is theobrama cacao, which translates into “drink of the gods.” Casa Cortés in Old San Juan will truly please any god with its Cortés chocolate concoctions. This welcoming café fuses modern style of its seats and dishes with the antique charm of walls covered in Cortés chocolate molds and a short history of chocolate on a collage of artwork that exudes nostalgia. The menu features mouth-watering items such as a baguette filled with Brie, chocolate, and a hazelnut spread; a blood orange and passion fruit cheesecake topped with a chocolate mousse; and an Argentinian ice wine. I opted for the mallorca (a sweet bread dusted with powdered sugar) stuffed with Ibérico ham, Manchego, chocolate, and a guava spread, accompanied by a European hot chocolate that was to die for. My meal was perfect, but I’m sure everything I didn’t get to taste was just as amazing. That’s what you get when your chocolate comes straight from a nearby farm. While I waited for my food, I watched a video on chocolate production. There’s also a museum (unfortunately, I was unable to see it, but you can bet I’ll be back there next time I come home to my beautiful island) and some products for sale. Make sure to take a little piece of Casa Cortés with you for future indulgences—they advertise one chocolate tablet as being enough for two beverages.
San Francisco, San Juan, 00901, Puerto Rico
Anywhere breakfast is served all day usually scores in my book. At Caficultura in Old San Juan, the food is “farm to table” and is as delicious as the creative menu sounds. In addition to the mostly healthy options, the highlight is the maple syrup made with rum, and coconut milk–dipped french toast topped with coconut shavings. The atmosphere was pretty cool—large black chandeliers hang from large wooden beams, and the picture windows face Plaza Colón outside. Definitely a cool local place to stop into and grab a coffee or brunch while sightseeing throughout Old San Juan’s historic district.
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